When we think of Thai cuisine; mouth-watering curries, soft noodles and spicy soups often spring to mind. It’s an exquisite blend of herbs and spices that give these dishes and many other Thai favourites their unmistakeable flavour.
A stroll through any market in Thailand will inspire a battle of your senses as the vivid colours of all the fresh produce compete with the aromas of cooking food and the chatter of the local vendors tending their stalls. The sense that usually wins out is the olfactory one, as it entices you to one of the food stands.
The combination of herbs and spices in many Thai dishes is an art form in itself, as Thai cuisine relies on a delicate balance of around 20 staple herbs. In addition, Thai cooking can be very involved. Many times the amounts of ingredients used are minuscule and you wonder why even bother? To the trained palate, it only takes one taste to realize that something is missing.
Below are a few essential Thai ingredients for you to stock up on for when you want to prepare a Thai feast at home, or even in the kitchen of your Thai holiday villa.
Creative with Coriander
All it takes is a small sprinkle of coriander, but without it, your taste buds just wouldn’t appreciate a steaming bowl of Thai spicy soup in quite the same way. Coriander leaves and roots are often used in Thai cooking, either mixed right into the curry paste or as a garnish on top of the dish. A flash of bright green also gives many dishes a dash of colour, as well as a sensational aromatic fragrance. For Thai cooks, small but significant touches make all the difference to the food.
Love your Lemongrass
Thanks to its distinct citrusy flavour, lemongrass is a treasured ingredient that appears in many Thai dishes. The lemongrass plant looks like coarse grass, and thanks to its hardy exterior, it can grow in almost any soil. Young, tender stalks of the herb can be sliced and eaten, while older stalks are often crushed before being added to the broth to emit their flavour. Even better, lemongrass is reported to be a cure for an upset stomach and is said to keep mosquitos at bay.
Great with Galangal
Galangal, a cousin of fresh ginger, is often used as a base ingredient in Thai curry pastes. However, budding home chefs that like to prepare Thai curry should know that substituting galangal with ordinary ginger will give you a completely different flavour. Galangal bears a striking resemblance to an upturned claw, and has a subtle hint of citrus flavour. It is often used to flavour fish and chicken stock also. So remember to choose your produce wisely at the local market.
Make it Green
Containing practically no juice at all, kaffir lime leaves are frequently used in Thai cooking. The leaf is added whole to flavour curries and sauces, but its tough texture means it is rarely eaten by itself. Instead, cooks will simply tear or shred the kaffir lime leaf and add it to the curry mix so it can impart its distinctive lemony flavour. If you want to give your Thai salad a kick, you can thinly slice fresh kaffir lime leaves and add them into the mix. To keep them fresh, simply store the leaves in your freezer so they retain the fantastic flavour.
Touch of Turmeric
If you ever wondered what gave yellow Thai curries their striking burst of colour, then you finally have your answer: turmeric. These tiny, vivid orange roots are a regular player, particularly in the kitchens of Northern and Southern Thailand. Turmeric also offers dishes a warm, peppery punch, and has been used as an anti-inflammatory agent in Chinese and Indian medicine for hundreds of years. Once known as “Indian saffron”, turmeric was also historically used as a fabric dye.